What are the Benefits of Applying Mulch?

  • Mulch inhibits the germination and growth of weeds.
  • Mulch helps maintain the moisture in soil, keeping plants from drying out and reducing the requirements for supplemental watering.
  • Mulch helps maintain soil temperature — this is especially beneficial in early spring when the temperature may fluctuate wildly during the day and night.
  • In climates where winters get very cold, mulch protects plant roots and helps prevent frost-heaving, a phenomenon where plants are literally pushed through the surface of the soil by the natural expansion and contraction of the soil as the temperature fluctuates.
  • In climates where summers are very hot, mulch helps keep plant roots cooler.
  • Quality organic mulch, as it breaks down, adds some welcome nutrition to your soil.
  • Mulch improves the appearance of grounds — it’s attractive and designates the areas of your landscape.
  • A layer of mulch around a tree, for instance, protects the base of the tree from trimmer cord.

Types of Mulch Material

Homeowners have many options when it comes to materials to use for mulch — each has it’s pros and cons.

  • Decaying Leaves
    In the fall, when raking leaves, you may choose to pile them in flower beds as a layer of mulch. Decaying leaves are actually very effective at smothering weekds and holding in soild moisture. While free and readily available, they are not the most attractive solution. Also, if the leaves contain seeds, they can germinate and become a weed problem. Soft leaves, like maple, can become matted and some varieties, like oak, are highly acidic, lowering the pH of soil
  • Compost
    If you have your own compost pile, this is a free and plentiful solution and is a highly effective way to add nutrients to the soil. Compost is not, however, a very effective means of weed control. 
  • Grass Clippings
    Collected and used as mulch, grass clippings are cheap, available and easy. However, they decay quickly so frequent reapplication will be reuqired. If you use weed killers or fertilizer on your lawn, this will be transferred to any beds you mulch with the clippings, so keep that in mind. If the grass has gone to seed before you cut it, it may germinate in your flower beds. 
  • Peat Moss
    A beautiful solution, peat moss is a great nutrient enhancer to the soil. Peet moss is a more expensive alternative, however, and when dry, may actually repel water and become crusty. Therefore, it must be kept moist. This might be a great solution for areas where appearance is highly important and frequent watering is possible. 
  • Hay or Straw
    Hay and straw are both inexpensive and readily available, but neither is especially attractive and both may invite and harbor rodents. Straw is light, so it may blow away and hay probably contains undesirable weed sees.
  • Gravel, stone, or decorative pebbles
    Though not exactly “natural,” this is a very beautiful solution and will last a long time as it doesn’t break down. This is not a highly effective means of weed control, though, and provides no real benefits to the soil.
  • Wood or Bark Chips
    Probably the most widely used mulch, especially in neighborhoods, wood or bark chips are very attractive and slow to decay. Wood Chips are available in different wood varieties offering a wide array of colors and looks from which to choose. Different varieties have different pH values. Pine bark mulch, for instance, is highly acidic, so you may not want to use it in a garden. When applied in a deep layer, this type of mulch may harbor pests. 
  • Rubber (usually made from shredded, recycled car tires)
    The appeal of rubber mulch is its durability — it will last for a very long time. Also, it is available in many colors and quality rubber mulch looks very much like wood. There are disadvantages to rubber mulch, though. Especially when new, it may smell very strongly of rubber and it provides no nutritional benefits to the soil whatsoever. 

Some homeowners use some combination of the above — they might apply decaying leaves in the fall to maintain moisture, regulate temperature, and inhibit weed growth over the winter months, only to supplement or replace it with pine bark mulch in the spring. In some areas, such as along walkways, one may choose to use decorative stone, while using something more economical in larger areas where appearance is not as important. 

Ultimately, your decision will be influenced by your preferences, the needs of your landscaping, and your budget.

How Much Mulch Do You Need?

Two to four inches of mulch is ideal for maintaining soil moisture, regulating temperature, and discouraging weed growth. If you are applying mulch to an area for the first time, the job will take more. If this is a “reapplication” to an area you have previously mulched, you may not need quite as much. 

Prepare the area by removing any visible weeds before applying the mulch. You can purchase mulch at garden, hardware, and discount stores in bags. This is a great solution if you don’t need too much. If on the other hand, you are mulching a large amount of area, you may be ahead, economically and logistially, to have a load of mulch delivered to your home. 

There are several online “mulch calculators” that will help you determine exactly how much you need. You simply enter the area (in square feet) that you want to cover and the depth you wish to achieve and it will tell you how much you need. Here is a great Mulch Calculator. There are also options for calculating stone and plant amounts for different sized areas. 

For reference, one cubic yard of mulch will cover approximately 150 square feet to a depth of 2 inches. That is roughly the area of an average parking place. 

Worth the Trouble

As you can see, besides the obvious benefits in the appearance of your landscaping, the use of mulch has a lot of real benefits to your plants and soil. While it is a lot of work to prepare the areas and apply the mulch, careful consideration of the material and amount will ensure that your labor isn’t in vain. 

What to Consider When Selecting and Installing Mulch

What are the Benefits of Applying Mulch?

  • Mulch inhibits the germination and growth of weeds.
  • Mulch helps maintain the moisture in soil, keeping plants from drying out and reducing the requirements for supplemental watering.
  • Mulch helps maintain soil temperature — this is especially beneficial in early spring when the temperature may fluctuate wildly during the day and night.
  • In climates where winters get very cold, mulch protects plant roots and helps prevent frost-heaving, a phenomenon where plants are literally pushed through the surface of the soil by the natural expansion and contraction of the soil as the temperature fluctuates.
  • In climates where summers are very hot, mulch helps keep plant roots cooler.
  • Quality organic mulch, as it breaks down, adds some welcome nutrition to your soil.
  • Mulch improves the appearance of grounds — it’s attractive and designates the areas of your landscape.
  • A layer of mulch around a tree, for instance, protects the base of the tree from trimmer cord.

Types of Mulch Material

Homeowners have many options when it comes to materials to use for mulch — each has it’s pros and cons.

  • Decaying Leaves
    In the fall, when raking leaves, you may choose to pile them in flower beds as a layer of mulch. Decaying leaves are actually very effective at smothering weekds and holding in soild moisture. While free and readily available, they are not the most attractive solution. Also, if the leaves contain seeds, they can germinate and become a weed problem. Soft leaves, like maple, can become matted and some varieties, like oak, are highly acidic, lowering the pH of soil
  • Compost
    If you have your own compost pile, this is a free and plentiful solution and is a highly effective way to add nutrients to the soil. Compost is not, however, a very effective means of weed control. 
  • Grass Clippings
    Collected and used as mulch, grass clippings are cheap, available and easy. However, they decay quickly so frequent reapplication will be reuqired. If you use weed killers or fertilizer on your lawn, this will be transferred to any beds you mulch with the clippings, so keep that in mind. If the grass has gone to seed before you cut it, it may germinate in your flower beds. 
  • Peat Moss
    A beautiful solution, peat moss is a great nutrient enhancer to the soil. Peet moss is a more expensive alternative, however, and when dry, may actually repel water and become crusty. Therefore, it must be kept moist. This might be a great solution for areas where appearance is highly important and frequent watering is possible. 
  • Hay or Straw
    Hay and straw are both inexpensive and readily available, but neither is especially attractive and both may invite and harbor rodents. Straw is light, so it may blow away and hay probably contains undesirable weed sees.
  • Gravel, stone, or decorative pebbles
    Though not exactly “natural,” this is a very beautiful solution and will last a long time as it doesn’t break down. This is not a highly effective means of weed control, though, and provides no real benefits to the soil.
  • Wood or Bark Chips
    Probably the most widely used mulch, especially in neighborhoods, wood or bark chips are very attractive and slow to decay. Wood Chips are available in different wood varieties offering a wide array of colors and looks from which to choose. Different varieties have different pH values. Pine bark mulch, for instance, is highly acidic, so you may not want to use it in a garden. When applied in a deep layer, this type of mulch may harbor pests. 
  • Rubber (usually made from shredded, recycled car tires)
    The appeal of rubber mulch is its durability — it will last for a very long time. Also, it is available in many colors and quality rubber mulch looks very much like wood. There are disadvantages to rubber mulch, though. Especially when new, it may smell very strongly of rubber and it provides no nutritional benefits to the soil whatsoever. 

Some homeowners use some combination of the above — they might apply decaying leaves in the fall to maintain moisture, regulate temperature, and inhibit weed growth over the winter months, only to supplement or replace it with pine bark mulch in the spring. In some areas, such as along walkways, one may choose to use decorative stone, while using something more economical in larger areas where appearance is not as important. 

Ultimately, your decision will be influenced by your preferences, the needs of your landscaping, and your budget.

How Much Mulch Do You Need?

Two to four inches of mulch is ideal for maintaining soil moisture, regulating temperature, and discouraging weed growth. If you are applying mulch to an area for the first time, the job will take more. If this is a “reapplication” to an area you have previously mulched, you may not need quite as much. 

Prepare the area by removing any visible weeds before applying the mulch. You can purchase mulch at garden, hardware, and discount stores in bags. This is a great solution if you don’t need too much. If on the other hand, you are mulching a large amount of area, you may be ahead, economically and logistially, to have a load of mulch delivered to your home. 

There are several online “mulch calculators” that will help you determine exactly how much you need. You simply enter the area (in square feet) that you want to cover and the depth you wish to achieve and it will tell you how much you need. Here is a great Mulch Calculator. There are also options for calculating stone and plant amounts for different sized areas. 

For reference, one cubic yard of mulch will cover approximately 150 square feet to a depth of 2 inches. That is roughly the area of an average parking place. 

Worth the Trouble

As you can see, besides the obvious benefits in the appearance of your landscaping, the use of mulch has a lot of real benefits to your plants and soil. While it is a lot of work to prepare the areas and apply the mulch, careful consideration of the material and amount will ensure that your labor isn’t in vain. 

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